Sherry Boram




Sherry Boram




Sherry Boram


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

A Friend of the Quilt Alliance


Marion, Indiana


Tomme Fent


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Sherry Boram. We are in Marion, Indiana, at the Quilters Hall of Fame. It is July 21st, 2007, at 2:56 p.m. Thank you so much for doing this interview with me, Sherry.

Sherry Boram (SB): Thanks for inviting me.

KM: So tell me about this quilt that you brought today.

SB: Well, this quilt is very special to me because it represents the connection I had with my mother. The last few years of her life--Mother was very petite and hard to fit -- I made many blouses for her. Actually, it started kind of in a funny way. We were in England and she just went nuts over the flowered blouses and dresses on the women in England. And she patted me on the knee, this was back in 1990--she pats me on the knee and she said, 'I should have you get some flowered material and you can make me one of these beautiful blouses.' And I patted her on the knee and I said, 'Sure, I'll do that.' And she patted me on my knee again and she said, 'Oh, I was just kidding.' And I pat her again, and I say, 'Oh, no, you weren't.' So, basically, that's how the blouses started.

So I took one of her blouses and cut it apart to make a pattern, and made fourteen blouses for her in the ensuing years. And this quilt was made after she died, and it's made primarily around the pockets from all of those blouses. And then I've included photographs of her wearing the blouses. The border of the quilt is the wristbands from the long-sleeved blouses. So it's very special, and I made it for the "I Remember Mama" project that Karey Bresenhan started after she lost her mother. My quilt did not make the cut for the show, but I am so happy I made it because I love it.

KM: Now, this is embroidered doilies?

SB: Actually, no, just ecru lace that I painted with Seta-Color.

KM: Ah, lace, so it has lace and then it has flower buttons?

SB: Yes, and it has some other hand-painted fabric in shapes.

KM: And it has words on it.

SB: Yes.

KM: So tell me about the words.

SB: Well, the words are things that she said to me a lot. We were very good buddies as well as being mother and daughter, and she was very supportive of me. Actually, the first quilt I ever made was for her 90th birthday in 1992. I had never made a quilt but I always knew there was one going to come out sometime. And for this auspicious event of her 90th birthday, I decided to go for it, even though I didn't know what I was doing. I've sewn just nearly all my life, so I knew I could handle the mechanical stuff, but I never really wanted to make anyone else's quilt, so-called anyone else's quilt. So this was my chance to make 'my quilt,' and to make it about her, and I used all the members of our rather small family and had them draw around their hand, add their signature, and so the quilt was born. And she absolutely loved it. That was the first original quilt I made, actually the first of any quilt I ever made. So that was the beginning and it was fun, it was successful, and I thought, 'I think I can do this.'

KM: She looks like she was a wonderful person.

SB: She was. That picture that you're looking at right now is the last time I saw her. She and my father moved to Sacramento in 1978, to be near my sister. At that point, they were ready to settle down from their retirement traveling ways, and for some reason or other, they liked Sacramento rather better than Indiana. I don't know why, do you? [laughs.] So anyway, we would visit her a couple of times a year, and that's the last time I saw her, was when that picture was taken.

And this picture in the upper left-hand corner is Mother wearing a dress made from the material that I bought in England. That was the first one.

KM: [reading phrases from the quilt.] 'You are more than a daughter; you're my friend.' 'I'm so proud of you.' 'Don't worry.' 'I love my blouses.' [laughs.]

SB: [laughter.] She said that a lot.

KM: That's great. 'I love my family.' 'Let's play Rummy'?

SB: Oh, she was a great Rummy player. She was a great game player. I think this, and the fact that she was a very healthy eater, contributed to the fact that she was almost 97 when she died, living by herself, doing very well.

KM: So is this typical of your quilts?

SB: I think I probably use stronger colors most of the time. This is a rather soft and gentle color palette, but it's for her. And the background of this, on the front, was to be the next blouse. The back side was to be the next one. So those are kind of the colors that she liked so it seemed appropriate for this quilt. But I use whatever rings my chimes, so to speak. I do some painting on fabrics. I have not done any dyeing of fabrics. I don't intend to. But I do like to do some surface embellishment, surface decoration.

KM: And you machine-quilted the quilt?

SB: Yes. That only--and these are small quilts. The only things that I have really done by hand were last spring, when I was in Arizona for a couple of months, I did not take my sewing machine. I knew I had a couple of Journal Quilts to make for, again, Karey Bresenhan's "Journal Quilt" project, and so I just took everything I needed in small containers. I took hand stuff. And I thought 'Now, okay, you can do this by hand.' And so I did, and I also did the Alliance for American Quilts--a little house that I made for the special ["Put A Roof Over Our Head."] project that you know so much about. I made that by hand. And it was great fun. I just enjoyed it a lot. But, you know, most of the time I do it rather quickly.

KM: Is it a typical size? Do you like to work small?

SB: I have made everybody that deserves to get a bed quilt from me their bed quilt. No more, unless something happens or somebody comes into my life that needs a bed quilt. So I really like making small quilts. I have made a lot of Artist Trading Cards which are 2 1/2" by 3 1/2". That's really small. I have made a lot of quilted postcards, 4" by 6". Those are great fun. My husband and I have a really busy life. He is a woodworker and we have a lot of projects going on most of the time, and our two daughters live rather close to us, and it just seems like we're really busy. So having the option to make something that I can finish in a reasonable amount of time works for me.

And then I get myself into challenges. I'm a challenge junky, what can I tell you? I discovered in 19 -- no, wait a minute, in 2001, early in 2001, because I suddenly realized that I was making original quilts and I thought, 'I don't see these anywhere.' So I did a search on my computer and I typed in 'art quilts,' although a lot of my quilts are really not art quilts; they're just original quilts. They're not in the 'high art' category for certain. When I did the search, I found, and I went to it and I've been there ever since. And as you know, because that's how we know each other, I get inspired periodically to do quilts around certain topics that people would throw out. I'd say, 'That's a good idea for a quilt challenge.' And most of them are small and that works for me.

KM: Do you belong to a guild or any art groups in your area?

SB: Well, no, I really don't. Well, yes, I do, I belong to the Old Church Gallery Quilt Guild in Floyd, Virginia. And I live in Indiana, so you're wondering how did I get involved with that? Well, that also has a Quiltart connection. One time somebody was inquiring on the Quiltart listserve about quilt stores and fabric stores between Point A and Point B. And in my mind, because I do a lot of traveling and map reading and navigating, I'm thinking, 'Oh, they're going to go right through Floyd County, Virginia,' and this is where we have spent summers for the past several years in our Airstream trailer. So I typed in a response to this inquiry and suggested they stop at Floyd, Virginia, and go to the Schoolhouse Fabrics. And soon after that, I got an e-mail from Susan Brittingham, and she said, 'Sherry, I didn't know you were in this area, so why don't you come and visit our guild?' So I did the next time we were there, and was very welcomed, by just wonderful women. So I joined the group and we were there in that area for the annual quilt show in the fall for several years, and so I participated in that. But I'm a long-distance member, for sure.

And just recently, we've decided to give up our affiliation with that part of the world as far as our Airstream is concerned because we have redone much of our house, so I have a nice space for creating and my husband has a nice space for wood creating, and so we decided that we'd rather stay home at this point and play with our raw materials and our tools than haul our trailer all the way to Virginia. But we'll still do travels, just traveling shorter trips.

KM: So tell me about your studio.

SB: Oh, it's huge. I don't even know how big it is because I don't keep numbers in my head, but it formerly was his workshop. Our daughter and granddaughter were in our house for three years and they were staying in two large rooms in our lower level of our house that has a walk-out. And as soon as they departed Larry said, 'The first thing I want to do is to fix your studio for you.' And so I said, 'Okay, that's fine with me.' So it's -- it has everything you could want. I don't have a lot of natural light and I keep trying to think of how I could fix that, but I compensate with everything else. And it's just a very fun place to be.

KM: It's nice to have your own space.

SB: It really is. I had been doing quiltmaking on my lap and in RVs a lot of the time because we were spending the winters in Casa Grande, Arizona. And I had a shed at both places, in Virginia and in Arizona, so I really did have a quite nice space to create, but hauling the stash around along with all the embellishments and all of that other stuff was a whole lot of work. Having it all in one place is wonderful.

KM: So how many hours a day do you spend creating quilts?

SB: Sometimes none, sometimes many. A lot of my creativity goes on in my head, like most people who do original things, and sometimes I have trouble going to sleep at night. You know, I'll close my eyes but my eyeballs are still open, and I have what I call 'RBS'- Restless Brain Syndrome. [laughs.]

KM: I like that. I have that, too.

SB: I bet you do. It's just hard to not put those ideas that get you excited down into your left ankle until you're ready to pull them up and put them back in your brain again. But I think about it a lot because it really has become a passion. It's just so much fun to wonder where you're going on a fiber journey and maybe have an idea of a theme, which is what I like about the challenges so much because I need a focus. But I don't usually know how I'm going to get to the destination. Consequently, I think that making quilts is character building because you have to, first of all, start out with an idea, start out with some skills, start out with making decisions about color, about size, about feel, about techniques that you're going to use. And very often, it requires overcoming obstacles and figuring out solutions to problems, and so I kind of relate it to life, because you have to do that all the time. So it's kind of my metaphor for life, in a way. And I'm always surprised at how things turn out because I usually have no idea where this is all going.

KM: What challenges are you working on right now?

SB: Okay. Well, there was an extension on the "Remember Me" challenge, and I have such a wonderful idea in my mind and tomorrow, I will start working on it. And since I have a reprieve, I do have the option to go ahead and finish that. Another one coming up is the "Symbols of Our Culture" challenge, and that could go anywhere. However, I have a feeling this won't be a pretty quilt. I don't usually concern myself with whether my quilts are going to be pretty or liked because I think that very often, I find myself in a situation where I want to express an emotion or a philosophy that maybe many people won't agree with or relate to, and that's okay. So I do it anyway. And those quilts don't -- certainly do not get hung up on the walls in my house, or anyone's house, but it's very satisfying to have been able to create something that expresses the way I feel about important issues. And, as a matter of fact, this particular quilt about Mother is kind of like that because, as I said, I'm happy that I had the impetus to do it because it was for a project. But though I would have eventually made it, I did it probably sooner than I would have gotten around to it otherwise because I wanted it to be included in the "I Remember Mama" project. Though nobody is seeing it but you and me.

KM: Well, more people will see it now after we put it on the interview. So what does your family think of your quilting?

SB: They really love it. Larry is probably my biggest booster. He thinks I'm the most famous quilter in the world. [laughs.] He makes it possible for me to sometimes ignore some of the things I probably should be doing just for day-in, day-out living, to finish a project that he knows is important to me. My two daughters are great supporters, too. We have one grandchild. She'll be 20 in September. And she's one of the people who has a quilt for her bed. And someday, maybe I'll make her another, if something big transpires in her life. But for the present time, I'm just really enjoying making small pieces that are doable and kind of express what I want to express. I've got way too many tricks in my box of tricks, and you're nodding because you know, too. In fact, I keep thinking, 'I should write these down because I forget that I do this and this and this and this with fabric.' And then I see it on someone else's quilt and say, 'Oh, I should have done that and I forget.' So we do tend to get too many techniques in our toolbox, and, you know, just way too much fun.

KM: So have advances in technology influenced your work? I mean, you have photo transfer on here.

SB: Yes. Well, probably the most prominent of the technological advances that affects my quiltmaking is my computer, for many reasons. Just keeping in touch with the worldwide community of Quiltart, which is my quilt guild -- that and being able to research subjects that I'm interested in for personal projects or for challenges, to do searches and come up with an image or a fact or an idea. That's a huge help. So I would say that my computer is the most prominent; however, I have a sewing machine that does a lot of fun stuff, and it's dependable and that's really valuable. And, of course, all the threads that are available, that's pretty nice.

KM: Do you do all your shopping on the web?

SB: Not really. Since I've gotten all my stash back in one space, I realized how much stuff I already have. So I don't really shop a lot, and if I need something specific, it's usually a trip to the quilt shop. That's basically what I use.

KM: Is there a quilt shop in Pendleton?

SB: Oh, actually, we have two. Pendleton's a small town in central Indiana. We have two quilt shops and we're so close to Indianapolis, and there's everything there. What town are you from in Indiana?

KM: Highland. I'm from the northwest.

SB: Oh, okay, from the northwest.

KM: But I haven't lived there for a number of years.

SB: So, no, I don't shop a lot on the web for fabric and sewing stuff because I just have a lot. I do shop when I go to quilt shows, though, and I love going to the hand-dyed booths and getting scraps because during my traveling time, it was nice for me to have a wide selection of colors and fabrics to put in a small container to travel with. And so I really had just about everything I needed.

KM: So whose works are you drawn to and why?

SB: I'm drawn to a lot of artists. I'm particularly drawn to Susan Shie's work because I like her style and I also like her ability to pack a lot of meaning into her quilts with text. And her class at her studio is really the only time I've ever taken any class at all.

KM: Did you go to summer camp?

SB: Turtle Art Camp, yes.

KM: Yes. Was it during the summer?

SB: Actually, it was in the spring, four years ago.

KM: Okay.

SB: And that was an eye-opening experience. I admired her work so much, and when I decided to go, I thought, 'You know, I'm not at all worried about coming home and doing copycat stuff because what I want to get from her is the spirit of creativity.' And so I did that. I feel a lot looser and a lot more able to express my creativity designs because of the tools that I learned there. I don't do any air brushing. I don't do any air penning, except what I did there. But I just feel like I came away with a lot of tools. Maybe it was just permission to be a little looser.

KM: It's quite a gift.

SB: Yes, it really is, because I was really starting from nowhere. I was raised in a musical family and all along, my entire life, I wanted to do creative things. And so I really didn't have a lot of opportunities for that as a child and growing up, and it was just all about music and all about travel. Those were the two passions of my parents. My father was my flute teacher, my mother was my piano teacher, and that was our life. And at the point of, I think when I was 17; I belonged to the American Federation of Musicians because that's just what we did in my family. But when I went to college, there was a sewing machine in the laundry room that worked beautifully. Mother had a sewing machine but every time I tried to make something, the needle would break or fall out or stitches would tangle up, and it was just not a fun thing. So you really have to have dependable tools, and I found a dependable sewing machine at Ball State. And so I made some projects and had great fun, great success, and then after we were married, I started sewing everything I could sew. And so I did have the tools and the skills, the mechanical skills, of creating with fabric, and I felt very comfortable with that when I started making quilts. But it was just a matter of, 'Okay, now, how do I cut this fabric up and then how do I get it back together so it looks good?'

KM: What is your memory, first memory, of a quilt?

SB: There were quilts in my family. I think my grandmother made a couple. My grandmothers were both gone by the time I was 10, so I didn't have a lot of experience with them. But I had quilts around me. We also had those heavy wool comforters that were in the family. But there was one quilt in particular that was -- I don't know what it's called, but it was just nothing but little one-inch squares. There was one square in that quilt that was -- must have been rayon because it was shiny. And I would always look for it and I would always feel it. And that was probably the beginning of my fingers wanting to find fun fabric because I just, after that point, I couldn't keep my hands off of fabric.

And Mother had a first cousin who was a weaver and so I heard a lot about Cora and her wonderful family. And as it turns out, one of her sons is Bob James, and he and his wife Ardis are very well-known collectors of quilts. But so, anyway, since I'm second cousin to Bob James, I just feel beholden to know something about quilts. And so that has been a bit of a link for me. And other than that, I don't know that there were really any other quiltmakers in my family that I was exposed to. I was never able to sit under a quilting frame as a child like a lot of quilters were able to. I never had that experience, but I just like fabric. I can't keep my hands off of it.

KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge to confront quiltmakers today?

SB: Well, the challenge for art quilters is to be taken seriously, I believe, because the traditional quilt is a bed covering. It is utilitarian. And today there are thousands, maybe millions, of quilters who make traditional quilts. But there's this growing population of art quilters who are frustrated from time to time because the general population is not as used to seeing quilts on the wall. And so, I just think more time, more exposure through quilt shows, and actually the exhibit that has been in this facility, The Quilters Hall of Fame, that exhibit is the first contemporary or art quilt show that has ever been here. It's called "She Made Her Mark," and this is a project of the Fiber Arts Council of Southern California. Through the curator Thelma Smith's connection with her roots here in Marion, she was able to procure this site. So I think this has probably been a very good thing for Marion, and for the people who are attending the quilt celebration this week, to see these works of art that are made mostly typically but not with typical design. They're all over the place as far as techniques are concerned. They're just stunning quilts. And so this has been a very good thing, I believe, for central Indiana.

KM: I think it's also that it's an international exhibition, too, which I think is very nice.

SB: I think so, too. One of the things that appeals to me about the Quiltart list is the international scope of it, because anything we can do to connect with people in other countries, other ideas, other cultures, has got to be a good thing.

KM: I haven't heard anything about how this exhibition has been received.

SB: I think it's been received very, very well. I was here for the opening in March, though there was not a large attendance, but that was one of the first nice days that you could get out in Indiana and drive around after we'd had heavy snows. So I think a lot of people on that particular Sunday were out doing things just for the mere fact that they could get out. But there were very, very good responses from most people who came. And the curator here at The Quilters Hall of Fame told me about having a group of children go through this exhibit recently to see the quilts, and how delighted they were. And so I think that was a really good thing because these kids aren't going to forget that quilts not only can be traditional on their beds, but they can be very nontraditional and on the walls and be made with very unusual things in addition to the fabric.

KM: Oops one of the tape recorders just stopped recording but we're okay. So what do you think makes a great quilt?

SB: Oh, my goodness, I'm a poor one to ask. I probably should say, 'Well, if I made it, it's great, right?' [laughs.] Actually, what makes a great quilt is a quilt that meets the expectations of the creator. And a quilt, not necessarily made by me, but a quilt that really sings to me is a quilt that draws me in with the colors, the lines, the designs, the meaning, and then the secondary things. I like to look again, and I like to look closer. I can go through a quilt show really fast because most quilts don't hold my interest. Of course, I'm not looking for traditional quilts. I'm not looking for matched points. I'm not looking for perfect stitches. I'm looking for something that makes me want to jump and shout. And when I see them, it's a very good experience, and I see them all the time. I could give you a huge list of people whose work I really, really like. There's a quilter in the group in Virginia who's very well known, especially for her wearable art. Her name is Ann Reardon, Yolanda Ann Reardon. And she just does stunning things. Another friend of mine in Virginia is Linda Fiedler, and she does stunning work. And you know both of these artists. I like Michael James things. I like--

KM: Do you like Michael James's new work?

SB: I liked his older work better, you know? That's interesting, I wonder why that is, but I just really liked his earlier things. But he can't go wrong, so who am I to say I don't care for his--I do like his newer things, but I don't like them quite as well as the older things.

I like Nancy Crow's things. The first time I ever came to the Quilters Hall of Fame was the year that she was being inducted. And, boy, that was a powerful exhibit. I just stood there and just kind of shook my head. I was back here again, too, when Yvonne Porcella was inducted. Her good friend Chella from Modesto is the sister of my college roommate who lives in Muncie, Indiana, and so I stopped in Muncie and picked up Joyce and Chella, who was in town, and we came up for Yvonne's big deal. And her work is just stunning. That was a terrific experience. I think that was in 1998. And I was just really starting to get into making a lot more quilts about the time that my husband retired and we started our traveling. So it was kind of like a bad intersection because I'm ready to go great guns with these quilts and we're ready to travel, so how do you reconcile that situation? But it worked out fine because I kind of like to do smaller works.

KM: Well, is there anything else you'd like to add before we end our time?

SB: Well, it's just been fun talking to you and we know each other because of the Quiltart list and we have exchanged postcards and that's been great fun.

KM: What do you do with all your postcards?

SB: Well, they're kind of stacked up. I have some pinned up. I taught a postcard class in June. This is the first time I've ever been asked to do a class, because I've pretty much been under the radar. Most people have no idea what I do when I go into my sewing room. And so it was a surprise that it got out [laughs.], and so somebody said, 'Well, you must come and teach a class for our guild in a neighboring town,' and so I did. And I found out that it was really hard. I've done teaching before and workshops before but not about quilting, so though I was comfortable speaking, it took a lot of effort to get all of my ideas and techniques distilled into a teachable form. That was work. And then I also decided I don't like hauling stuff around anymore, because I used to do that a lot when I was doing a lot of consulting and demonstrations. And so, what was your question? [laughs.]

KM: What do you do with your postcards?

SB: Well, actually, I took a lot of them with me and I think I have started some people down that road of no return of making the quilted postcards. One of them I've been in touch with e-mailed me last week and said that she had entered two of them in the county fair and had gotten two blue ribbons. So this is a dangerous thing for Barb. I think she's hooked and she's on her way. But she's still a traditional quiltmaker. I don't know, her postcards were very contemporary, very original, so this could lead to something bigger for her, who knows.

KM: They are very addictive.

SB: They really are, and for the obvious reasons they're addicting to make because they're quick. You still have to use the same kind of tools and skills. You hope that when they're looked at online, that people will have no idea what size they are, if they're done well, if they're composed well. But they are fun, Karen. And speaking of challenges, I think I probably will be owing you one soon. I don't remember which ones I signed up for.

KM: I don't know, either. I'd have to go figure out which of the groups. I suspect I know which ones but I don't remember.

SB: I think I did "Music" and I thought, 'Oh, that's going to be so boring to do,' but I thought, 'You know, I really have to do it because that's my background. I must do that.' I think I did "Things with Wings." Is there a "Things with Wings"?

KM: Yes, there's a "Things with Wings."

SB: And I want to do some way-out things with wings.

KM: Cool.

SB: Like a museum has wings, you know? Things have wings. Sewing things have wings. I like doing the unexpected. I've done several Hoffman Challenges. One of the most memorable ones for me was a red apple [sic.] print several years ago, and driving home from our winter in Arizona--and I do most of the driving, and I love driving because I do a lot of my creative thinking while I'm driving. I think I'm a safe driver, but, you know, I still am able to use part of that brain for thinking about creativity. And I thought, 'Oh, I really don't like this fabric. How in the world am I ever going to do these cherries?' And I thought, 'Cherries, cherries. I'll do Adirondack chairs. I'll use only the red part and I'll make Adirondack chairs.' So this is a really far-out looking quilt, not at all like the fabric. You would be shocked to see where the fabric came from. And that was great fun. And as far as the Hoffman Challenges are concerned, I never choose their coordinated fabrics. I'm not doing it this year, as a matter of fact, but I may do it again. I may not. I don't know. I just like being able to be a free spirit with my quilting.

KM: I think this is a good note to end on before the tape runs out. So thank you very much for doing this interview with me. And it's 3:37 in the afternoon. We'll conclude. It's been fun. Thanks.


“Sherry Boram,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,